The Birch Bots, otherwise known as Team 5421, is the Birch Wathen Lenox School’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team. Our team got its start in late 2014, when Scott Mandelbaum ’16 MIT ’20 joined forces with Science teachers and Robotics mentors Ed Brown and Woody March-Steinman, creating a team with thirteen members. A few months later, in 2015, BWL won the “Rookie All-Star Award” which celebrates a rookie team exemplifying a young but strong partnership effort, as well as implementing the mission of FIRST to inspire students to learn more about science and technology.
Although the Birch Bots is still a “young” team, membership has more than doubled in the past three years. Our goal as a team has not changed, and is in keeping with BWL’s educational philosophy: to improve our own abilities according to what the individual student is inclined to do. Regardless of one’s interests, abilities, or experience, all students in the school are encouraged to join the team and our journey of working together for competition and enjoyment.
The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is comprised of thousands of teams worldwide. Every January, FRC releases a challenge/game that requires teams to design, build and program a robot in the short span of six weeks. Our team has participated in the annual NYC regional event for all three years (each year with a new robot) as well as the 2015 St. Louis Championships and many off-season events including Monty Madness, the Where is Wolcott Invitational, Brunswick Eruption, and Girl Power, our most recent competition. Girl Power stresses the importance of female students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the entire driver team must be composed of girls. While it was a smaller event than others that we have competed in, it was very enjoyable and successful. We ranked high and were able to pick our alliance partners, teams who helped us to fight hard through several playoff matches.
In June 2017 BWL competed in the Where is Wolcott Invitational (WIWI ‘17) for the second year in a row. While we started with several defeats, we were able to persevere and end up in first place, winning the entire competition. Early on in the competition, our gearbox had broken, preventing us from climbing a rope, one of our robot’s main abilities. This caused us to slowly fall further down in ranking. Unfortunately, by the time it came to picking teams, we were ranked 24th out of 25 due to our malfunctioning robot. Even so, we were invited to be on the top-seeded alliance, composed of two other wonderful teams. The captain team of our alliance admired our robot and helped to repair our mechanism in the very short amount of time that we had before we had out next match. After some daring changes, we proved to be an enormous asset to our alliance and ended up winning the entire competition.
At the end of September, the eighth annual World Maker Faire was held in Brooklyn. 200,000 people attended this family-friendly festival of invention. The Birch Bots team was invited to hold our own booth in the FIRST section of the Robotics area. We were able to show off our robot, explain the program to families, teach visiting children about the building process, and spread the ideas of FIRST into the wider community.
Our next event is a team favorite, Brunswick Eruption, on November 11th.
If you would like more information about the Birch Bots, or are just interested in hearing more from us, check out our Instagram (@frc5421), YouTube channel (@frcteam5421), and website (birchbots.com).